The different periods of the pandemic have seen people go through a change in screen habits. Being told to stay at home for extended periods of time meant that more people have been plugging in and watching television.

According to Ofcom’s media report, the average amount of time being spent watching audiovisual content during lockdown increased to 6 hours and 25 minutes each day. A rise of almost a third, when compared to the same period just one year before. And this data does not take into account the amount of time spent looking at apps on a phone screen. 

Dr Daniel Atkinson, Clinical Lead tells us: ‘Screens, whether they be computer, television or phone have revolutionised the way we live and have enhanced our lives in many ways. This has been especially apparent whilst we have been unable to physically meet up with our friends and family.’ 

‘However, moving even more of our life online and onto screens also means that we’re facing new challenges such as screen fatigue, eye strain, and headaches along with the problems that are associated with a reduction in face-to-face contact, loss of social connection and increased feelings of loneliness and isolation.’

Why might working from home increase screen fatigue? 

More people have been working from home. When working from home we may be less likely to take proper breaks away from our screen. 

Focusing our eyes on a screen for a long period of time can cause visual and cerebral symptoms, such as dry eyes, headache, a sore neck or head and difficulty concentrating to name a few. 

In an office environment workers may be more likely to get up to make a drink and chat to colleagues. Whereas at home, workers may remain static for longer periods of time and even forget to drink enough fluids throughout the day. 

Even though working from home may have become a permanent fixture for some workers now, their ‘office’ set up could still be lacking. 

It can be difficult to set up a laptop screen in a position that is good for your eyes and posture. Straining to see a screen that is poorly lit or in an awkward position could trigger symptoms of fatigue. 

If you think that your working from home set up could be contributing to unpleasant symptoms, such as headaches, then speak to your line manager to see if they can offer any practical help. 

Eye health and screen fatigue

Our eyes do the brunt of the work when we’re looking at a brightly lit screen for several hours a day. This means that they can start to show signs of fatigue. 

During the pandemic some regular health appointments have been delayed in order to keep workers safe. This might mean that some people have missed their regular eye check ups, especially if they usually wear glasses or contact lenses. 

Regular eye appointments can pick up changes in our sight but also look at the general health of each eye. 

Straining through glasses or contact lenses which are not at the correct strength can cause symptoms such as headaches. 

The full health impact of the pandemic will not likely be understood for some years to come. 

Experiencing the odd headache every now and then is quite common. However, when headache or migraine symptoms start to happen more frequently or increase in intensity then getting a medical opinion is important. 

If your headaches start to impact on your day-to-day activities then you should speak to your doctor. 

The more we see things returning to normal in the UK then our screen habits might revert back to ‘normal’ too. 

How to reduce symptoms of screen fatigue

  1. Take regular breaks away from your screen. Set an alarm on your phone or computer to remind you to step away from your screen. Ideally let your eyes focus on something further away or close your eyes for a minute or two. 
  2. Set up your work space in a room with good natural lighting. Position your computer so that it is adjacent to the window. If your screen is in front of the window then your eyes might strain to focus on the darkened screen. If your screen is opposite the window then you might be battling against glare. Both of which can cause headaches. When looking at a screen for a long period of time, diffused lighting is best so make use of light curtains or blinds. Use a well positioned desk lamp if needed. 
  3. Opticians are now carrying out regular appointments so get in touch with yours if you think you are overdue for an eye appointment, or if you think that your eyesight has changed. If you wear glasses for reading or close work, chat to your optician about the best glasses for you, traditional reading glasses for close work aren’t usually suitable for use with laptop and desktop screens since they’re normally positioned further from our eyes than we might hold a book, magazine or tablet. Occupational lenses may be helpful if you find that long periods of screen work are causing some eye strain.
  4. Hydration is important. Don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. You may notice headache symptoms the day after not drinking enough. 
  5. Exercise can help keep our bodies supple, especially after sitting in the same position throughout the day. A healthy and varied diet can make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need to maintain eye health.